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Last Updated: Nov 14, 2019

Reading Disorders - How Would I Know If My Child Has It? Is It ADHD?

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Dr. Sushil Kumar SompurPsychiatrist • 20 Years Exp.MBBS, MD - Psychiatry, MBA - Healthcare
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Reading disorders occur when a person has trouble with any part of the reading process. Reading and language-based learning disabilities are commonly called dyslexia. These disorders are present from a young age and usually result from specific differences in the way the brain processes language.

There are many different symptoms and types of reading disorders, and not everyone with a reading disorder has every symptom. People with reading disorders may have problems recognizing words that they already know and may also be poor spellers. Other symptoms may include the following:

  • Trouble with handwriting
  • Difficulty reading quickly
  • Problems reading with correct expression
  • Problems understanding the written word

Reading disorders are not a type of intellectual and developmental disorder, and they are not a sign of lower intelligence or unwillingness to learn.

People with reading disorders may have other learning disabilities, too, including problems with writing or numbers. Visit learning disabilities for more information about these problems.

Types of Reading Disorders -

Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person's ability to read. Individuals with dyslexia typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are a difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding. Dyslexia can be inherited in some families, and recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose an individual to develop dyslexia. Examples of specific types of reading disorders include:

  • Word decoding - People who have difficulty sounding out written words; matching the letters to sounds to be able to read a word.
  • Lack of fluency - People who lack fluency have difficulty reading quickly, accurately, and with proper expression (if reading aloud).
  • Poor reading comprehension - People with poor reading comprehension have trouble understanding what they read.

A related problem is an alexia (pronounced uh-LEK-see-uh), or an acquired inability to read. Unlike most reading disabilities, which are present from when a child starts to learn to read, people with alexia were once able to read but lost the ability after a stroke or an injury to the area of the brain involved with reading.

How will I know if my child has a reading problem?

The news usually comes in one or more of three ways -

  1. School feedback - If your child's teacher alerts you to a problem, resist falling into the blame games. If the teacher asks, "Do you ever read to him at home?" don't come back with, "Aren't you teaching him to read at school? Whatever you're doing isn't working."
  2. Your child's statements - The child may well make general or specific comments: "I don't want to read," "I can't do this," "I don't get what's happening in this story." More likely, your child will just express frustration. Strong resistance against practicing reading, including blanket statements like "Reading is dumb" is an obvious sign.
  3. Behaviour’s you can observe - Reluctance to be read to, getting stuck on most words in a sentence, slow or no reaction when you ask a simple question like, "What is the sound of that letter?" Another warning sign would be if the child's reading is very slow. Accuracy in early reading is much more important than speed, but if you can wash and dry the dishes before the sentence is completed, fluency is a problem. Or you may notice that the child gets the beginning of the word but guesses at the rest of it—reading "smoke" as "smile," for instance—which suggests she is trying to memorize whole words instead of breaking them down to sound them out.

Can't I just wait until the child gets to school, where they have teachers trained to teach reading?

You could, but it would be better if you did not. Practicing the components of reading in the home doesn't mean you force reading before your child is ready to, but you can help develop important skills without rushing the process, and the child who does practice those skills will do better when he does get to school and is ready to read in earnest. Studies show that having more of the component skills in place at age 5 predicts better school achievement at ages 7 and 15.

What do I do if I think my child has a reading problem?

A reading evaluation can be very important. A trained specialist can identify weakness in any of the component skills and will know how to work on it. Bear in mind that the child's negative reaction to reading alone will not necessarily show you where the problem is. Your best bet is to ask your child's teacher, school psychologist, or principal to bring in a reading specialist. Or if you prefer to seek out help on your own, you can do your own search for a reading specialist online or in the phone book. A little respectful tact in dealing with your child's teacher may well be necessary, but you're not questioning the teacher's competence or going over her head by consulting a specialist. Reading is a well-developed area of educational specialization, with masters and doctoral level professionals who can offer very focused assistance that goes beyond what can happen in the classroom. Plan to work with the teacher, as will any reading specialist your child ends up seeing.

There are more serious problems—auditory disorders, dyslexia, pervasive developmental disorder—that can lead to reading impairment. One reason to go to a specialist is that there are different strategies associated with addressing each of the many causes of a reading problem.

What if my child can read, but just won't? What if my child just has an attitude problem?

You can be certain of motivational problems only if all of the component skills are well established. As a parent, you probably cannot determine this on your own. But if you've taken your child for a reading evaluation and the problem really is just motivational, then you might try the following: Establish more reading routines; engage in more talking about reading at the dinner table; have the child select a book to read together at the book store; switch to engaging magazines or something else other than a book that has words to read; read stories connected to movies, and see the movies with the child.


If my child is pulled out of class for an intensive reading program or I enroll her in an outside program for a few weeks, will that bring her up to speed?

A few weeks in an intensive reading program, all by itself, probably will not be enough. A program that is sustained and supported in the home is more likely to have staying power. Research suggests that much can be done to help the child and build the skills needed, and that steady progress takes precedence over a quick fix. Most of the time, the mundane, game-like activities I've discussed above will go far to improve reading and complement school activities. If you can start early, all the better. If you have the option, select daycare, preschool, and kindergarten that emphasize sounding out, rhyming, and other pre-reading skills.

But do not leave the teaching of reading to the school. Without becoming a whip-cracking achievement monster, you can accomplish a great deal as part of a regular routine of play and home life.

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